Kiskunsagi Ranch, Hungary, 2012.
Sue Woodbine, Far and Ride.
I’ve just returned from my first trip to Hungary and I was not sure what to expect… what a wonderful adventure it turned out to be! Accompanied by Stephen, my non-rider husband who is also a Director of Far and Ride, I visited our Western Ranch situated in Kiskunsagi Park which is about 80km from Budapest. Ida met us at the airport and we drove the scenic route to the ranch (this was not intentional but it was fun!). The countryside during the journey was very pleasant but flat and unexceptional. However, once we were near the ranch the countryside totally changed beyond recognition – this area is basically known as the Hungarian desert as there is sand underfoot for miles! I got out of the car and was struck by how peaceful and tranquil the ranch was… this feeling remained for the whole of our stay and is difficult to describe unless you have been there yourself. The pace of life is so different and offers a great way to escape from hectic lives back at home.
Ida showed us to our accommodation which served as two double rooms and was accessible via some outside wooden stairs with entrance into a small kitchen. The accommodation here is very comfortable – the rooms are spacious and some do have access to a small kitchen area whilst all have en suite facilities. Our room was great with a clear view over the horse corrals. A television is available in each room and there is plenty of cupboard space and room for riding clobber! The rooms are spread between different buildings set around the ranch but all are spacious and comfortable with some suitable for families with three beds as well as a room perfect for groups. There are also American Indian style tipis on site which I think most children would simply love (and some adults too!). Meals are taken in the small bar/breakfast room where there is access to the internet, a huge flat screen television and a fantastic sound system. The bar has authentic decor with bar stools made from western saddles and the shelves are covered in trophies – the horses at this ranch have been western riding champions for many years and the owners have won a host of rosettes and cups which are proudly displayed. There is also a barbecue and pizza oven in the comfortable outdoor area near the bar. The swimming pool is close by so drinks by the pool will definitely be favourite!
As for the food… it’s fantastic! Our breakfasts consisted of fresh fruits (the biggest strawberries I have ever seen!), yoghurts, cereals, cheeses and Hungarian specialities such as stuffed peppers. The bread and jams were fresh and delicious. Ida was keen to show her skills with the new waffle machine and, to be fair, after a smokey start the results were pretty good once she had perfected the batter (with some help!). Fruit juices and a good selection of teas and coffee are available so guests can enjoy veritable feast to start the day. Dinners here are typical Hungarian fare – wholesome dishes cooked with fresh local ingredients. The stews and goulash are definitely very tasty whilst one night we had meat loaf with mashed potatoes which was also delicious. We enjoyed local wines with our meals and they were a pleasant surprise as I had no previous knowledge of Hungarian wines. I had not realised that this area was covered in vineyards so wine tasting is also an option.
Sanyi takes care of all the horses at the ranch, along with Josef who also drives the carriages. There is a large team working under Sanyi and they collaborate to keep these horses in fantastic condition – all were well-fed and happy. The horses in work are kept in corrals near the main buildings and each corral has a covered shelter with a fly curtain at the entrance. They have an ongoing supply of hay as well as hard food when required. Youngsters in training are kept in groups in corrals further away and horses not in work or mares in foal are kept in the adjacent fields. The fields also have large shelters and ad lib hay – due to the sandy ground there isn’t much in the way of natural grazing and so hay is an important source of forage. Horses have a long and happy life here with the old and retired horses having an important part to play in looking after the youngsters and keeping them in check. I have never seen such a content bunch! They are mostly Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and Arab crosses. Whilst the ranch’s speciality is western riding they now also have some horses suitable for English riding and these are mostly local Hungarian breeds. There are lovely stables on site for those horses needing any special attention or mares about to foal.
The facilities here are first class to enable the training of the horses throughout the year. There is a large covered menage, two large outdoor arenas and a round pen. Riders are often introduced to their horses in the round pen to make sure that they are comfortable. Those new to western riding often need a few tips but once they are confident then the first trail ride can begin. If you wish then you can have some western lessons everyday… this is certainly the place to be for high level western tuition.
My husband Stephen has only ridden very occasionally and so needed a sensible steed for our first ride out. Sanyi chose Doris for this momentous occasion! She is a sturdy soul, known for her good temper unless another horse gets too close. My horse Gulliver was a chestnut Quarter Horse and Ida rode Oke, a horse for advanced riders only with a keen temperament. Sanyi was training one of the new “English” horses, a flea bitten grey called Bartal. Sanyi adjusted our stirrup leathers and checked we were fine and comfortable. He mounted his horse and led us down a sand track for a few miles and eventually we cut across country. The sand underfoot made for easy riding and there is only one small road to cross when riding. You can ride for miles and miles without any sign of habitation. We eventually found our way riding over farm tracks, passing many fields of vines and the odd farmhouse. The farms we passed all had a menagerie of animals in the yard including longhorn cattle, sheep and some seriously aggressive turkeys! The people here are mostly self-sufficient so everyone seemed to have their own hens at the very least. They often make their own wine and some very strong liqueur/schnapps called Palinka (not for the faint-hearted as I later discovered).
The peaceful countryside attracts a plethora of wildlife. In the UK hares are now a rare sight but here they live in abundance – what a sight they make as they speed over the fields! We saw many deer on our ride and they often darted in front of us and frolicked away over the open land. We rode cautiously to start with and several trots later we embarked on our first lope of the day. Stephen was still in the saddle so Sanyi, who was at all times very safety conscious, felt comfortable enough to speed up our ride. Ida tells me that riders happy in the saddle get plenty of fast riding – the going is perfect for speed. After a few hours in the saddle we stopped for a picnic at an abandoned church which sat on its own on a grassy hillock. One of the girls from the ranch, accompanied by Josef, had arrived in a van full of goodies and set up a table for lunch. The sunshine was glorious as we took off the horses bridles, loosened their girths and tied them up for a break. A delicious picnic awaited which included a large bowl of goulash soup accompanied by hunks of bread, very welcome after our ride. There was more to follow with two sorts of pancakes – one with a type of soft cheese filling and the other with apricot jam. Yummy!
We dozed in the sun for quite a while after this feast. “This is going to be one of the trail rides that guests will definitely enjoy”, I thought to myself. The beautiful weather was an added bonus to what was already a lovely ride. After this glorious lunch break we saddled up and went back on our way. Doris was on her best behaviour, taking care of Stephen whose confidence in the saddle had risen majorly since the start. By the time we got back to the ranch he was a regular cowboy! Gulliver was a very comfortable ride for myself who doesn’t get to ride that much and Oke continued to prance for Ida until she got back home. The horses here are well-schooled and often you will be riding one of the horses that wins all the prizes at the western shows.
Stephen’s next adventure continued on another day when he had the chance to drive a carriage! Ida decided we should visit the local cheese factory to see how the cheeses are made and, of course, to sample as many as possible. This is a trip which will be offered to guests and is certainly worth doing. Josef collected us in the horse and carriage and Ida, myself and Stephen tucked in the back on the way there. Sophia sat beside Josef, along with a huge basket of wine and beer in case we needed supplementing on the journey. The two horses pulling the carriage were large, black, fit and shiny… ready for action! The drive took us down the sand tracks to Isjak, the local town, and the clip clop of the horses’ hooves was very comforting as we admired the countryside in a leisurely manner. It was so relaxing. We eventually found ourselves at the cheese factory and were met by the manager, a young man who took us through the process of cheese making and showed us the various sorts of cheeses they make here. We were then taken to a tasting area and sampled some of their produce, accompanied by some local wine. Delicious! It was a very interesting afternoon and we came away with a bag full of cheese goodies to eat later. Josef and the two horses had all been dozing in the sunshine quite happily.
We got back in the carriage, this time with Stephen sitting in the front. Carriage driving is taken quite seriously in this region and there are often competitions. We took a diversion to go around the chariot course on the edge of the town and Josef showed us his considerable driving skills and the agility of these magnificent horses… I could see that driving could be fun! We started back to the ranch and on the way Josef handed the reins over to Stephen for his first driving experience… Stephen is renowned for his careful nature and thus he took avoiding the holes and bumps very seriously! Josef was confident enough to light up another cigarette and all was calm until he clearly became bored with this far too sensible behaviour and flicked the horses into action. Suddenly we took off at a vast speed as if a marauding bunch of Apaches were on our heels! Sophia, Ida and myself clutched the sides in a bit of a panic and nervously giggled. We soon dissolved into hysterical laughter as we realised we were not going to stop in a hurry and decided that we had to make the most of it. Stephen and Josef were in control! If we hung onto the sides then with a bit of luck we would not get thrown out of the back and covered in sand. It seemed an age before Josef slowed us down but eventually calm returned to the team – the horses are so incredibly fit that they were barely puffing. Stephen got out of the carriage with a somewhat shocked expression on his face, even though he knew that Josef would take control if necessary. It was a fun trip and not to missed! At times like this a palinka might be welcome.
One morning Roland, the ranch manager, took us to visit the bird station nearby. This area is known for the many different birds – some stopping off on their migration to and from Africa. In season there are experts manning the station and they can show you the many birds in the area, some of which are tagged so that knowledge can be gained of their behaviour. There is a tall watchtower from where you can see for miles. You will be able to ride here on one of the riding trails but non-riders might wish to spend some time here if they are keen bird watchers. Nearby Roland took us to areas where they are clearing the lakes of the reeds. When out riding you will pass the reeds tied in stooks which are then used for thatching. There is a great conservation programme in this area and when the overgrown lakes are cleared there will be more water and wildlife will return.
We did not have time to visit the thermal baths in the area but I’m told they too are well worth a visit, particularly after a day in the saddle. We will certainly do so when we return to the ranch as we hope to do! We took the opportunity during our visit to spend a night in Budapest – hotel accommodation is cheap and we found a hotel in the city which was only 20 minutes from the airport.
We both very much enjoyed our visit - it’s somewhere that everyone will be made welcome, whether they are single travellers, couples, families or groups of friends. A hen party would have a spectacular time, even if some didn’t wish to ride! You can have so much fun, we laughed a lot and really enjoyed ourselves. The professional staff will ensure that the riding programme is tailored to suit you. They can hone your riding skills and make sure you have a good time out of the saddle. I can highly recommend this trip to everyone who wants a truly relaxing holiday in or out of the saddle.
Read more about the ride here: Kiskunsagi Ranch, Hungary.